Chris Tusa is an English lecturer and author from Louisiana. Dirty Little Angels is his debut novel, so I was excited to be reading a book by a new writer.
At first I really didn't like the novel's imagery. Everything seems to be ugly or decaying. The imagery was powerful, however, and I remembered how in an art history class I had once complained about the ugliness of a sculpture and how much I hated it, only for my tutor to point out how great an effect that "ugly" image had actually had on me, given that I was talking about it so much. The imagery in Dirty Little Angels is the same: unpleasant but unforgettable. Gradually, too, I came to realise that the imagery was reflecting the state of mind of the protagonist, Hailey.
Hailey seems to me to be another character who is more sinned against than sinning. She is an imperfect but nevertheless sympathetic character, let down far too often by the people in her life who should care most for her. Her story ultimately ends in betrayal and tragedy, in a way which made me think of a heroine from a completely different time and place - Tess Durbeyfield.
The overall atmosphere of the book is darkly Gothic, even though Tusa avoids the cliches normally associated with the New Orleans setting (in fact much of the book is set around Hailey's home, which seems to be in a suburb rather than the inner city). Illness and decay feature prominently.
It's hard to say just what sort of genre this book would fit into. Perhaps Bildungsroman would be closest, although Hailey's maturity in this case is hard-won and ultimately regrettable.
Was it worth reading? Yes, because while it wasn't always enjoyable, it was certainly memorable. I wondered what happened to Hailey next, which is surely one of characteristics of a good book. It should also appeal to senior high school students.
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